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No tunnel of love for SJ
$14B plan could cost Manteca, Ripon water
Tunnel plan expected to hurt farming, impact Delta habitat. - photo by HIME ROMERO

• Nearly two-thirds of the state’s population (25 million people) depend on water conveyed through the Delta for a portion of their water supply as do more than 2 million acres of irrigated farmland that grow crops for in-state, national, and global distribution.
• Much of California’s agriculture depends on water from the Delta watershed. One sixth of all irrigated lands in the nation are in the watershed including the Southern San Joaquin Valley that ranks as the world’s richest agricultural region in terms of production.
• The Bay-Delta is the West Coast’s largest estuary with 57 major reclaimed islands and numerous islands without levees.
• Over half of the 1,000 miles of levees are located in San Joaquin County.
• Of the five counties in the Delta, San Joaquin County has the largest potion at 43 percent. The other counties with Delta land are Sacramento, Solano, Yolo, and Contra Costa counties.
• Over a third of San Joaquin County’s land mass is in the Delta and produces nearly 25 percent of the county’s $2.2 billion agricultural value.

Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to build two twin tunnels to end what he calls California’s perennial “water wars” isn’t getting much love in San Joaquin County.

It was near impossible Wednesday to find any San Joaquin County leader, farmer, environmentalist or outdoors enthusiast willing to embrace the $14 billion tunnels aimed at taking Sacramento River water destined for Los Angeles and large corporate farms on the west side of the Southern San Joaquin Valley at a point near Courtland and delivering it into the California Aqueducts at Tracy to effectively bypass the Delta.

Brown sees it as a way to assure water supplies for “key regions” in the state during a drought or other natural disasters such as an earthquake. South County foes see the twin tunnels as a potential death knell for parts of the Delta and its fish, plus a number of farms as well as taking surface water from cities such as Manteca, Ripon, Lathrop, and Tracy to supplant LA bound water that for years has helped sustain the Delta’s ecological system. They also believe that the governor and supporters in the Obama Administration are pushing the tunnels as a solution first instead of doing scientific research to see how diverting the massive amount of water will impact the Delta.

“It’s the Owens Valley all over again,” said South San Joaquin Irrigation District Board Chairman John Holbrook in reference to how the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power nearly a century ago diverted water from the Eastern Sierra valley to set in motion its rapid demise as a bountiful agricultural region.

Holbrook questioned how supporters say it won’t impact farming especially since part of it would require taking 3,000 acres of farmland mostly in San Joaquin County out of production permanently for conversion to wetlands.

Holbrook stressed that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to impacts on farming and the Delta.

The other impacts Holbrook and others cite:

• Without a large portion of the Sacramento River water to meander through the Delta it will leave the San Joaquin River watershed as the only place the state and federal government or courts could take water to assure adequate Delta flows for fish and the environment. That puts water supplies for SSJID, Modesto Irrigation, Turlock Irrigation and a host of other eastern San Joaquin Valley water districts at risk. It also imperils water supplies that provide surface water to the cities of Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy and future water supplies for Ripon and Escalon.

• Salt water intrusion without the Sacramento River water is expected to increase imperiling underground water sources as well as farm water within the Delta. During the 1990s drought, salt water started showing up in domestic wells as far east as Jack Tone Road.

“Basically we’re looking again at the Peripheral Canal,” Holbrook said.

That is in reference to the 1978 “Delta conveyance” that Brown pushed the first time he was governor. Instead of putting the water in tunnels to get it to Los Angeles without mingling in the Delta where it runs the risk of mixing with salt water and less pristine San Joaquin River water, that plan used a canal on the west side to bypass the Delta.

Manteca Councilman Steve DeBrum who works as the Dairy Farmers of America’s Northern California manager, said he was stunned that Brown’s announcement was made on the same day the federal government delivered bad news about food prices.

“Prices are going up 3 to 4 percent because of the drought in other parts of the country,” DeBrum said, noting that the governor’s proposal glosses over the impact of what experts contend will eventually take water from farms on the east side to replace flows in the Delta when Los Angeles water taken from the Sacramento River is tunneled beneath it. “It’s a total impact on the San Joaquin Valley.”

DeBrum was equally critical of the governor and the federal government for essentially advancing just a piece of the puzzle and offering it as the solution.

DeBrum said a cost analysis need to be done that weighs building desalination plants in the Los Angeles area against long term benefits of the tunnel for urban users.

Holbrook also agrees there are other solutions such as  building additional storage areas in Southern California so more water can be sent there during years of abundant rainfall and snowfall.

Five Delta counties have already formed a coalition to fight the tunnels. And on Tuesday the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors adapted a stern objection to the governor’s plan.